Adult Supervision Required in Aisle Two

I have a confession that’s a little embarrassing.  I’m 45 years old and I can’t be trusted with a box of Girl Scout cookies.

Homemade brownie bites
My homemade brownie bites

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m an emotional eater.  As it happens, I’m also a little compulsive about some things – like finishing things.  And by things, I mean boxes of cookies, containers of ice cream, bags of chips more than I mean household chores.

My son doesn’t have these food issues and for that, I am profoundly grateful.  He can take a bite or two out of a candy bar and walk away from it.  That amazes me.  I am compelled to eat the whole thing, then look for more.  I don’t know if that’s a compulsion or a sugar addiction.  In any case, don’t ask to share my Lion bar.  It’s not going to work out for you.

In my profile, I say that I’m a non-smoking smoker.  I see myself that way because, although I quit smoking six or so years ago, I smoked for the better part of 20 years.  On a really stressful day, I still feel like I could eat an entire pack – aluminum foil and all.  However, I choose not to and I make that choice every day.  If you’ve done it, you know that quitting smoking is no walk in the park.  The thing is, though, you don’t have to smoke to live.

You do have to eat to live.  Changing portion sizes, food selections and cooking methods are all well and good.  But temptation is still EVERYwhere.  I choose not to smoke; so, I can avoid smokey places, cigarette stores, situations where I once would have smoked.  I can’t avoid food.  And, c’mon, have you seen the snack aisle?!  Plus, my dieting doesn’t mean that my son should never have treats.  So, what to do?

In theory, I should be able to just NOT eat those cookies.  Um, yeah.  In reality, I swear they talk to me. “Eat me!  I’m right on top of the refrigerator.  Look up!”  As long as the bag is open, I hear them.  Ugh.  I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only adult who cannot walk past an open bag of snack mix.

The obvious solution is to stay completely away from temptation.  To do that, I’d never walk into a convenient store, Starbucks, or grocery store again.  Clearly, that isn’t an option.  I CAN just abstain from buying any treats.  Ever. For the rest of my life. Again, um, yeah.

The best snack solution is to keep lots of fruit, string cheese, yogurt, nuts and other healthful choices around.  And I do that.  I also keep 85% dark chocolate in the freezer and unbuttered popcorn in the cabinet.

However, I want to be able to enjoy ice cream, chips, cookies and the rest from time to time.  For those snacks, I’ve found a pretty workable solution. I buy single servings and I give away most of what I bake.

Skinny Cow, Edy’s, Ben & Jerry’s, and Haagen Dazs all make single serving containers (and, no, I’m not talking about pints).  We’ve all seen single serving chip bags as well as cookies at the deli.  Skinny Cow also makes low-calorie, single serve chocolate candies.  The cost per serving for treats packaged this way is higher, sure.  However, my largest concern with the snack issue isn’t my wallet as much as it is the size of the pants that wallet is in.

Move It

Black Labrador
Our Lab Trey

If you have a fat dog, you’re not getting enough exercise.

Doctors always tell you that to lose weight you have to change your diet AND exercise.  Now, let me let you in on something here: I hate to break a sweat.  Seriously.  Hate. It.  I don’t mind so much once I’m sweaty, but crossing that barrier just grosses me out something awful.  Plus, I would really rather just sit on the couch.  The sitting on the couch routine was killing me; so, it was time to adjust.

The truth is, my Labrador was a little chunky.   So, my exercise started with walking my dogs three times a week.  I started walking for 30 minutes at a moderate pace.  As the days passed, I added distance.  Then I added speed until the pups and I were walking 5 miles in 70 minutes.  The Lab and I were dragging at the end of that.  The Soup Hound was grateful for the warm up.  Nobody likes it when one of the party is that perky after such a workout.

I bought some yoga discs that I did at home once or twice a week.   I started slipping more accidental exercise – parking further from the door, taking my shopping cart all the way back in the store, that sort of thing – nothing particularly strenuous. Before I hurt my knee, I ran one day a week – 2.5 miles on the last time, I went to kickboxing three times a week, I used yard work as exercise one day a week and I went to the batting cages and driving range one day a week.  That day was a light exercise day; but, movement is movement.  It counted and it was fun.

As I told you, after I hurt my  knee, I went sedentary again.  However, I’ve joined one of those 24 gym places now and had my first workout with a trainer.  I couldn’t move afterwards.  It was discouraging.  BUT – I know that as I keep going and keep working, I will see results.

Walking, cycling and using the elliptical machines increase endurance.  Sit-ups, push-ups, and planks strengthen core and upper body.  Squats strengthen legs and rear.  These things will work.  I know they do – they did before.

The biggest challenge then – and now – is making myself go.  I can find a million reasons why I should do something other than exercise.  To be honest, I’m still struggling with that right now as I am more mobile.

What do you use to motivate yourself?

A 4-Letter Word That Starts with C

Cook.  That’s right.  I said it – cook.

You know this without watching Super-Size Me.  It is difficult to eat healthfully at restaurants.  Their portions are enormous and they augment flavor with sugar, salt and fat.  Even healthier restaurant choices come with empty calories in the parmesan garnish on the broccoli or the butter finish on the carrots.  Cook it yourself and there won’t be bad or empty things lurking around.

Going to the grocery store is so expensive.  Compare it to the dollar menu and you might think so.  However, the the dollar menu just doesn’t list your downline expenses of bypass surgery or diabetic supplies.  You spend the money on nutritious food now, or you spend it dealing with health issues caused by poor food later. Either way, it’s going to cost you.  At least when you spend it on nutritious foods, you get the benefits of feeling better!

Basket of goodies from my local farmers' market
Basket of goodies from my local farmers’ market

Cooking is such a pain and so time consuming.  Prepare and freeze chicken, beef , pork and even rice and beans ahead of time.  When you’re baking one chicken breast, you might as well bake several and put the extras in the freezer for later.  The same thing goes for making a beef, pork, or rice and beans.  Cook them in quantity, divide into single servings and freeze.  This keeps you from eating the same things day after day, it cuts down on your prep time and decreases the likelihood that you’ll call out for Chinese spare ribs.  I usually don’t pre-cook any fish, though, since it takes so little time to cook anyway.

I also like to prepare a large salad (greens only) and put it in a bowl in the fridge.  Tomatoes, onions, peppers, whatever, are kept separately so that I can have an all veggie salad one night, but maybe a salad with blackberries, walnuts and brie the next night.

As far as cooked vegetables go, I steam nearly all mine (except root vegetables).  Steaming them takes just no time at all.  With beets or sweet potatoes, I dice those, put them in the oven and they’re ready in about 20 minutes.

That’s all fine and dandy for lunch and dinner, but what about breakfast?  Omelets are nutritious and, when put on some flat bread or rolled into a tortilla, portable.  To decrease prep time, become your own sous chef.  When you get home from the grocery store, go ahead and chop up those onions, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, etc.  Storing them in separate containers makes them easy to use in either salads or omelets.  

I’m also a huge fan of oatmeal – the old fashioned and steel cut kinds, not instant.  I’ve seen some crock pot recipes for oatmeal, but mine ended up just over the edge of charred; so, I cook it on the stove. I add chia seeds and flax meal for the Omega-3.  I add cinnamon as it cooks, then stir in a mashed banana before I eat it. (The banana has to be mashed to make it as sweet as I like.  Slicing it is also tasty, but not nearly as sweet.)  When I make one serving, I usually go ahead and make two. I can put the second one in the fridge for the next day.

Here’s the most important thing to remember, though: measure. Make sure you have measuring cups, spoons and a kitchen scale.  If you’re like most Americans, you have no clue what a proper serving size looks like and when you’re keeping a food diary like MyFitnessPal or LoseIt, you have to know what you just ate!

Accountability To Myself

Food diary
Food diary

I Ate What?

Like I said, I had no clue what I was eating.  I was astounded to find out and I found our using a very simple tool – a food diary.

The one I used was LoseIt!.

You can find it at LoseIt.com and they have a great app for your smart phone.  You can log your food and your exercise either online or on your phone; so, there’s no excuse not to get things input.  I used their free version which has a few deficits.  I don’t know what the features are for their paid version are.

Their food database is extensive with lots of restaurant foods included.  I can scan bar codes for a super fast input and can add my own foods and recipes.  Since I make my own spaghetti gravy, I have to calculate each ingredient individually, then figure out the nutrients per serving.  As long as I make it the same way every time (fat chance), I have to do that only once.

Their exercise database is also pretty extensive and it allows me to add my own, as well.  However, the exercise duration times are only in blocks of five minutes.  If you’re maintaining your weight or if you are exercising for a couple of hours a day (yikes), fudging a minute or two is no big deal in the larger scheme of things.  BUT, when I first started, I could run only a couple of minutes.  I could manage only ten or so sit-ups and, by golly, I wanted every drop of sweat to count.  This app (at least the free version) didn’t let me account for that.

The one I’m going to use this time is MyFitnessPal.

I’ve played with their free version a little bit, but I’m still not totally familiar with it.  Like LoseIt, I can log my information either online or on my phone.

Their food database is also extensive and includes lots of restaurant foods.  The one issue I’ve encountered is that there are sometimes duplicate entries for the same item.  The duplicate entries may list different nutritional value for the same item.  I normally choose the entry with the highest caloric value.  Even if my calorie count then ends up artificially high for that day making it look like I ate at least my minimum calories when I didn’t, that error won’t happen every day; so, it’s not like my long-term progress is going to get knocked off track.  While LoseIt also tracks carb, protein and fat calories consumed, it doesn’t tell me which categories I’m light and heavy on.  MyFitnessPal does and I like that.  I like being able to look at my daily summary and see that I need to concentrate on vegetables at my next meal.  This app also allows me to add my own recipes so that next time I cook up a big old batch of Peel-a-Pound soup, it’s already in the database.

Their exercise database is also extensive and lets me add my own.  The real plus here is that I can count every. single. minute. of exercise.  I don’t have to do five minutes of sit-ups, two minutes will count.  They won’t count for much, but they will count.  As my friend Trish says, “Ounces make pounds.”  Calories ingested or burned account for ounces on or off.  Each one counts.

Both of these programs allow me to share my exercise and my weight loss (or gain) via Facebook and Twitter.  I really like that.  My friends and family have been an invaluable cheering section throughout my process.  It’s like a group weight loss program stacked with a group of people who already love me.  It’s great!!!  (By the way, neither site posts your actual weight.  I was a little worried about thaton account of I was a big girl.)

I would like to be able to change the caloric value for restaurant foods, but neither application allows me to do that.  For instance, if I order a Cobb salad at Chili’s, but I ask them to hold the cheese, croutons and dressing, my salad is going to have fewer calories than the one listed in the database.  To get an accurate count, I would need to measure the remaining ingredients and build a recipe, which is just not going to happen sitting there in the dining area.  It would be nice if the salad in the database had check boxes underneath for all ingredients.  You could check the ones you didn’t eat and the calorie count would adjust accordingly.  I’m sure that’s an absurd amount of programing work or maybe their paid versions already let you do that.  Hey! If you know, tell me!

Also, if you use, have used or know of another food diary (besides a note pad and pen, please) share it with us!

The big thing with these applications is that they are effective only as long as you use them and are honest with yourself.  If you ate two cups of Cheerios rather than the 3/4 cup serving listed, then count that.  That fish stick you ate to clean off your child’s plate must show up in your diary.  Lying to ourselves and/or being oblivious about what we eat is one of the reasons we can’t zip our pants now!

Together, let’s be honest with and accountable to ourselves in all things.  Nobody else has to know ; however, we are worth that attention! Let’s make sure we get it.

Commitment Doesn’t Have A Past Tense

Noticeable weight loss
(L) May 2011; (R) March 2012

Neither does accountability; but……..

All in all, I lost 80 or so pounds with my lifestyle change – from a size 20 to a size 6.  I went from eating garbage to eating clean, nutritious foods.  I went from feeling like I had sludge in my veins to feeling light, clear and powerful.  I went from refrigerator squats to kickboxing three times a week, running, and rock-climbing.  Then, life happened.

In July of 2012, I injured my knee.  In August, I was laid off.  In September, my only child started college across the country, I started a new (more stressful) job, had knee surgery and was told no impact exercise. November was my first Thanksgiving without my son. December was Christmas and resignation from my job. January was job searching and eating.  February was job searching and eating. March was studying to pass licensing exams, eating, a totaled car, and the death of a precious aunt.  Did you notice that I was heavy on eating, light on exercise of any kind?

My knee was in worse shape than the doctor or I anticipated.  As a result, I was unable to do much of anything for six months.  I could have gone swimming or used an exercise bike every day; but, I didn’t.  Instead, I slipped back into old habits – bad ones.

Here’s the thing: I’m an emotional eater.  Stressed?  Depressed? Anxious? Pull the chair up to the fridge and eat until you feel better!  Happy? Celebrate with some ice cream!  Bored? Cheetos are entertaining! Tuesday? Fried chicken makes for a great lunch!

With the life stresses that were weighing me down, I began to hear those negative voices again. (Not literally, for goodness sake.  Don’t go reserving me a padded room.) You know the ones I’m talking about – “You can’t do this.” “You messed it all up again.” “You’ll never be anything but fat.” I ate a little more ice cream, drank a little more beer and wore a little more elastic.

Unable to button a skirt, I had to take myself to task.

What would I do if I heard someone telling their child, “You’ll never be anything but fat?”  I’d be livid and might just say something.  So, if I recognize that sort of talk as unacceptable from one person to another, why don’t I recognize it as unacceptable from one person to self?  I have to remind myself every day to be kind to myself in my own thoughts.  I CAN do this.  If I messed it up again, I just have to TRY again. I have been at a healthy weight and I WILL BE AGAIN.

I have gained about 30 pounds.  Enough.  I’m  not going to beat myself up because I gained some weight back.  That’s over and done with.  Berating myself for it doesn’t help in any way.  What does help is throwing out nutritionally bankrupt foods, raiding the produce department, and taking the dogs for a walk.

My life is still something of a train wreck; however, today, and every single day, I commit to myself.  I commit to taking care of my body and my mind with good food, drink and thought choices.

I bring commitment back into the present tense and, with this blog, I bring accountability with it.

Who Is That Fat Woman?

Me and my dad on Memorial Day 2011
Me and my dad on Memorial Day 2011

I’ve had a weight problem almost all of my life; however, when I saw photos from a family Memorial Day event in 2011, I was surprised to see how big I had gotten.  In my mind, I was around a size 14.  In the real world, I was a size 20 and still going up.  Surprised as I was, I was not motivated to make any kind of real change.

Oh, sure.  I told myself I was dieting and cut out my daily Snickers bar, but that was really it.  You see, that was kind of my life-long pattern.  The Big Diet Lie, as it were.  Don’t look at me like that.  You know you’ve done it, too.  “Oh, no more lasagne for me.  I’m on a diet.”  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, you scarf an entire box of low-fat cookies.  Hey, but they’re low fat.  Stop it. You know you don’t even believe that.

I had lost significant amounts of weight using both The Diet Center program and Nutrisystem when I was in my twenties.  With the Diet Center program, I cooked my own food.  Nutrisystem was just like it is now – super, super easy. I just wasn’t commited enough to myself to keep the weight off with either program.

When I made the decision this time to actually lose weight, I remembered the food list from the Diet Center program. Unfortunately, their store fronts have long gone out of business and the books are no longer in print.  So, I went to abebooks.com (my most favoritest book site) to get a copy of the cookbook and of the program guide.  The books are written by Sybil Ferguson who devised the program for her own health.  I also bought a book called Your Body Knows Best about eating for your blood type, metabolism and heritage.  I combined those two programs and came up with a group of foods that work for me.

The short description of the list is this: lots of fresh fruits & vegetables, no canned foods or premade sauces (they hide all kinds of sugar, sodium and preservatives in canned and jarred food – read the labels, they”ll scare you to death), meat-free Mondays (or just some day of the week), fish one day a week, no more than one diet soft drink a day (down from 6 or 7 cans a day!), and absurd amounts of water.  A daily multi-vitamin ensured that my vitamins and minerals weren’t all flushed out by the copious amounts of water I drank.  I also took flax seed and fish oil supplements to help curb cravings.  My body craves red meat; so, I eat it.  My dad had a calf slaughtered before it got into the meat processing system.  The cuts are leaner from this grass-fed calf (which also hadn’t been treated with all those antibiotics necessary for cattle in stockyards); however, even with fattier cuts, I just counted the calories.  A good piece of roast beef from time to time isn’t going to kill me and if it keeps me from craving worse things, then, in the balance, it’s the best move for me.

I ate three meals and three snacks a day, keeping my mealtimes as routine as possible.  For me, this regular intake of calories kept my blood sugar steady which kept me alert and hunger pang free.   I’ve read that the body often signals the need for fluid by making you feel hungry; so, if I found myself feeling peckish outside of routine meal times, I drank a large glass of water or a cup of hot herbal tea.   If the water trick didn’t work, I brushed my teeth.  That minty feeling often cut off hunger at the pass.

I do not buy sugar free cookies or candies since they actually contain sugar alcohol which, I have discovered, makes me hungry.  For 110 calories, I can have two pieces of sugar free candy and be hungry enough to gnaw off my own fist in 30 minutes, or I can have a large banana and be satisfied for two hours.  For the same reason, I rarely ate pasta or white breads.  Any bread that I ate came from the store bakery, from the farmers’ market or from my own oven.  Since the stuff sold on the shelves takes so long to mold, it scares me.  I’d rather buy from a local baker, pay a little more, put some in the freezer to keep it fresh and know that I’m reducing the preservatives in my diet.

I would estimate that the first 40 to 50 pounds were lost basically to changing food choices and habits.  It was phenomenal!  But, did you notice how an awful lot of those habit descriptions involved the past tense?  Tomorrow, I’ll tell you why.

My New Birthday is July 24

“You’re not leaving here until your blood pressure comes down,” said the nurse practitioner to me at my annual check-up on July 24, 2011.

“I’m sorry…what?” said I.  Then, “You have my attention.”

On that day I knew that it was time for me to make some changes.  I had a job that I loved, but which was extremely stressful and involved crazy long hours.  My idea of exercise was to squat down to get the dip off the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.  I rarely ate breakfast, often missed lunch, then ate like someone was going to steal my food at dinner.  If it didn’t fall off my lap while I was driving or watching TV, then it was a balanced meal.  Family sized bags of chips and pints of Haagen Dazs qualify.  Before a hockey game, it was a Wendy’s Baconator, medium fries, diet coke and maybe a small Frosty.  Any idea how many calories are in that meal?  I certainly didn’t.

I noticed that my Facebook friend Tom was losing weight using the LoseIt!  After my check-up, I investigated the food diary app and decided to see if it would help keep me on track.  What I learned both astonished and embarrassed me.  I started looking up the nutritional value of what I had been eating and was just horrified.  My thoughtless food consumption ranged upwards of 3000 calories on a weekend day.  That one Wendy’s meal alone totes up a big 1390 calories all by itself.  And I’m not even talking about the sodium, trans-fat and cholesterol counts.  I knew that I had to make a massive change.

Now, I need to interject something here: I am not a doctor.  I am not a dietician.  I am not a personal trainer.  I am not formally educated in any way in the fields of diet and exercise.  Before embarking on any diet or exercise program, you should seek the advice of your doctor.  Seriously.

Friends, coworkers, and family have asked me how I did it.  This blog is a way for me to share my experiences, my frustrations, my successes and failures with you.  It is in no way intended to take the place of professional advice; however,  I would love for this to become a community to support healthier choices.  Share your own experiences in the comments.  Let’s use this as a forum to talk about what works, what doesn’t, how we struggle, how we overcome, how we take our lives back one choice at a time.

This isn’t about losing 10 pounds in a week.  It’s about eating a banana rather than a muffin. It’s about eating one cookie rather than ten.  Mostly, it’s about forgiving yourself when you slip and making your next choice a better one.  July 24th isn’t the birthday I came with; but, it’s the one I’ve chosen.  On that day I committed to myself to eat more nutritious foods and to be more active.  It’s a commitment I have to consciously make every single day.

Join me.  Make the commitment to yourself today.  Let’s help each other live healthier lives.

Thoughts about everything and nothing in an effort to be a better person than I was yesterday.